This Ray Bradbury classic somehow managed to escape my school curriculum. I could see why it is a classic, especially in the context of when it was published (1953). It spoke to concerns of the rising technological age and the conformism of the time. They had no idea what they were really in for in terms of the technology, but Bradbury still managed to prophecy eery similarities to the present, including reality television, portable ear devices for music and radio, robots, and a general addiction to screens and technology.
This novel takes place in a future (guestimates are around 2053) where homes are now fireproof (good!) and firemen are tasked with the job of starting fires instead of putting them out (bad!). Books are outlawed. 451 degrees is supposedly the temperature at which paper burns. Anyone caught in possession of books, is reported to the firemen. They get the alarm and proceed to burn all the books and then finish with burning their house down.
The hero of the story, Guy Montag, is a fireman who begins to have doubts about his line of work, after meeting with a peculiar young girl who likes to do crazy things like taking a walk in the woods and just enjoying nature, when she should be consuming television on the 3 (or for the luckiest ones, 4) walls of TV.
Montag really begins to question things after one woman chose to be burnt alive with her books. What is so special about these books anyway? So he steals one from the rubble and hides it back home.
His wife seems to exemplify the stereotypical 50’s housewife but with a twist. She is obsessed with her “family”-the reality TV actors in her living room (3 walls, dreaming of a 4th). She is immersed in the culture of instant gratification. But Guy returns home one night to find her having overdosed on medication. Medics are called to pump her stomach, a routine procedure because it happens all the time. I see this as an extreme parallel to the stereotypical days of homemakers using “mother’s little helper” to get by. Something is missing in their lives, is the subtext here.
Society in this fictional future values enjoyment and happiness over all else, where instant gratification is provided through destructive behavior, encouraged by the government, including parks meant for people to simply destroy things. Schools have done away with actual subjects and include gym and games.
Through Montag’s boss (the fire chief), Bradbury explains how they got to this point. People were threatened by those who read too much. They knew too much, and were too powerful. People wanted equitability. They did not want some to succeed over others, and knowledge through books was how they managed to do it. They also argued that books led to unhappiness due to someone inevitably being offended by the contents of certain books. So, for peace,happiness and equality, books had to go. They were a bad influence that caused upset and instability among the people.
How does the story end? Are there others like the young girl? Will Guy get caught with his books? Will he continue his career? Will a change happen? You’ll have to see for yourself…
If you like dystopic sci-fi, this is along the lines of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, and Orwell’s 1984, or Netflix’s Black Mirror, you will enjoy this quick, fun read.